Last night, over the airwaves, came a perfect moment in rom-com history. It was the episode of The Mindy Project titled “The One That Got Away,” guest starring Seth Rogen, and it was so bloody marvelous (I’m sorry, I get a little Hugh Grant-y when I’m worked up) that I’m going to waive our site’s strict Seattle-centricism.
Actually, if I subscribed to any ratings service, I’d be curious as to whether Seattle isn’t a big fan of Mindy Kaling already (we’re quirky — look at us, number one with a under-butler’s bullet in watching Downton Abbey), and besides she and Northwesterner-who-got-away Rainn Wilson tweet all the time. She’s even tweeted to “us”-ish:
#themindyproject starts in 15, West Coast! I’m looking at you, Washington, Oregon & California. Nevada I’m scared of a little but pls watch!
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) February 27, 2013
So there’s a case for an honorary Seattleite standing you could make.
But back to “The One That Got Away.” I have to backtrack a little to explain why it’s stayed with me (a whole day later, yes, but some shows I forget I’m watching while they’re on). The first thing that the still-too-few who have watched The Mindy Project discover is that Kaling is wickedly funny. This is a show that can embarrassing to watch because you yelp so loudly with laughter that your roommate may peer out to check on you.
Last night, Rogen supplied that line during a quiet and tender moment that made you feel a little like you were eavesdropping. Reminded that they hadn’t seen each other since sleepaway camp years before, he asked: “You ever get your period? That was a big thing last time we talked.” (Vulture has all the good lines for you.)
But it’s also a show that’s still finding its feet — cast members come and go, and there’s an eerie one-to-one relationship developing between character types on Mindy’s show and her former Office-mates: Morgan/Dwight, Beverly/Creed. Of late, we’ve seen more of Mindy’s ostensible profession, obstetrics, creep into the show, rather than act as a kind of cut-out doll “job” apparel. Happily, it’s often used to score a point simply by giving the show a chance to mention women’s health, which is more and more a political act.
The creation of Mindy Lahiri, though, more than makes up for any birthing pains. Certain characters embody something specific about their time — think of Andy Sipowicz or Buffy. Mindy is like that. She’s grown up on rom-com, as the show’s mythology has it, but unlike Radiohead, she still believes that two people who are not right for many, many other people can find each other.
And though she’s funny and can smile warmly, it’s just as often to be a prelude to a putdown. She has a mind and a tongue that operate in advance of courtesy, and she only occasionally opens up enough to let you know more about what’s happening in her head. It’s often not a cuddly thought. In the image above, the punchline is: “It’s a tier.”
Everything that The Atlantic bemoans about the lot of women today finds itself pinging around inside of Mindy — she’s a professional woman who intends to remain a successful professional, who would like a relationship with the right person, but who also can’t give herself completely over to that pursuit, in the event that any pursuing is required. Still, as Woody has told us, the heart and other organs want what they want.
What can we hope for? In “The One That Got Away,” Mindy Lahiri is reunited briefly (thanks, Facebook!) with Sam, a long-ago acquaintance from Camp Takanac — her protective parents had grudgingly acceded to her sleepaway camp demand by placing her in the “gentle hands of the Jews of the Berkshires.” Rogen appears as Sam-today, a soldier on leave from the Army — about to be deployed again, Mindy learns, to her chagrin.
The two get along famously in a thousand little ways, they see a Nora Ephron double-feature, and the story gently unspools with the screwball contained to what-ifs: What if Mindy got Sam out of service through some scheme? What if a giraffe licked their ice cream cone?
But other than a defenestration (helpfully defined in the show), nothing seems likely to stop Sam from rejoining his outfit. He explains to Mindy that, anyway, he wants to go. He believes he’s doing something worthwhile, like her. It’s bittersweet, but it’s an earned bittersweet because the episode takes the time to show you how they bonded in a short time (thanks in part to Mindy’s stuffed bear — again, see the Vulture recap), and reins in the wisecracks and wacky coworkers.
Almost no one takes that kind of easy-going time anymore — TV shows, first-daters — and it was particularly bold of Kaling to take her foot off the laugh-pedal since the show has been “on the bubble” (with viewership low enough that a second season is not a lock yet). But it reminded me of something else that TV can do besides make you laugh liquids through your nose, which is to adopt someone into that space you reserve for family.